Market Insights: Leadership Checklist

The value of a strong leader, and how to recruit one (or more).

BY Tony Misura

Builders Millwork (BMI) is a $20 million company headquartered in the heart of the Dairyland — Mondovi, Wis. I first met Jerry Jehn, the owner, in 2008 Walking into his office, I was greeted by a life-size Wisconsin Bucky Badger Football player Fathead leaping off the wall.

BMI is a great company with great people, providing architectural door and hardware products to general contractors focused on multi-family new construction projects in the upper Midwest. Its  model has supported a 15% growth rate year-over-year for the past 10 years. Here’s the shocking aspect of their business model — they have no sales team.

Tony Misura

Can you imagine your competitive edge being so great that you have no need for a sales team? The BMI team not only imagined it, they did it.

How do you build a business model without a sales team?

Multi-family, commercial projects have been plagued by the “Hardware Room” for decades. The Hardware Room is a single room secured and designated to hold all door locks, hinges, closures and entry hardware needed for the project. One key is handed to the job superintendent to guard.

The Hardware Room approach has proven to be an efficient path to unwanted results: lost products; hardware applied to the wrong openings; and a general time and money suck for everyone, including general contractors, sub-contractors and their suppliers.

Jerry and the BMI team developed a solution — presorting the doors, millwork and hardware for each individual unit. A 200-unit assisted living project will receive 200 materials packages, each marked and sorted by unit and phase. Hardware is palletized, allowing for easy and immediate distribution throughout the building and eliminating the need for hardware rooms and empty units for staging product.

If units are ready, all materials can be delivered directly to the respective unit. Less time is spent handling the product and the risk of damaged or lost material is minimized. The BMI On-Site Optimization Program, the trademarked name for this process, has become the oxygen their customers need to survive.

As a result of the efficiencies, subcontracted installers demand BMI as the preferred supplier on their projects, effectively taking on the role of a naturally occurring BMI sales force.

Here’s Jerry’s take: “The BMI Value Proposition is our employees and their Midwest roots. Coming from a largely agricultural, hardworking heritage, our employees realize the value of hard work and are rewarded accordingly. We create an entrepreneurial culture where all employees participate in improving the company. Their opinions matter. Let the employees that are doing the work come up with the solutions. They share in the success and more importantly, take pride in being a part of the success. They take ownership.”

BMI is a team. There is no Lone Ranger, swaggering sales persona driving their sales volume. There is no salesperson capable of moving their accounts to a competitor. The company’s competitive edge was created by solving a major on-site construction problem, positioning them to operate without a sales team.

For the LBM industry in general, BMI’s success raises the question “What are the elements of your offering that are different from your competitors and in high demand?” (Hint: the answer is not “on time and in full” or “customer service.”

Jerry is humble. But make no mistake, the quality of the team is a reflection of the people the leader attracts. The competitive edge of the business model starts with a strategic thinking leader.

How does a company attract this type of leadership? Very carefully. Here are my six top vetting questions for strategic leaders.

• When have you developed a market competitive edge? A proven history of success is a must. Answers should lead to multiple examples of when the edge was achieved.

• What did you inherit and what was the result? This must be reported in hard P&L numbers.

•  What is your problem-solving process? Look for collaborative, team-based answers. Be warned if the leader says “I” or “my team” — a clear sign of narcissism.

• What is the process for developing a market competitive edge?  The answer must be focused on collecting facts directly from the customer base and defining the problem or problems to be solved.

• What are the common obstacles and how do you navigate them?

• What have been your biggest mistakes? If a candidate doesn’t have any examples, that’s a clear sign of an egocentric leader, and an instant fail.

If your hiring process does not have multiple leaders in the final stages that score high on these questions, you are likely not accessing the hidden top-tier industry talent.

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Tony Misura is the founder and operating leader for the Misura Group, providing recruiting services to the building products industry since 1999.



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